Rather than the killings, slaughter, perversions and other violations of humanity in Maxs waking life, I will synopsize four of the Nazi SS officers vivid, intense dreams: ONE: Max is on a high cliff watching a procession of gondolas glide down a river, he clearly sees his gorgeous identical twin sister sitting cross-legged, her long flowing black hair falling over her perfectly shaped breasts. (Sidebar: in real life Max is sexual infatuated and romantically in love with Una, his identical twin sister). THREE: In a dark bedroom Max sees a tall beautiful woman in a long white dress. FOUR: Max exchanges cloths with his sister Una, he putting on her dress, she putting on his uniform. Let me simply conclude by saying that anybody wishing to read this novel must be prepared for the many more brutal, cruel and murderous scenes of Maxs waking life, reminding me of the hell scenes of the artist Hieronymus Bosch .
Lugging this gigantic book around, from Omaha to Minneapolis to Dubai to Chicago back to Omaha, I began to question why I was reading it. At first, through about 850 pages, I thought the controversy was a whole lot of nothing. In this instance, that place and time is unimaginably dark, but that doesn't mean that some light shouldn't be shed. I also thought there were some clever moments, as when Aue meets a Caucasian peasant who has been gifted with the ability to have all memories at once. Its smell; Aue's need to evacuate his bowels; detailed descriptions of said evacuation, etc. Where is the sick, depraved stuff that lured me in (and just to editorialize a little, I feel that many of these book reviews are very regressive when it comes to sexuality; just because Aue is a homosexual does not make him "deviant"; there is an underlying whiff of homophobia in many of the pans I've read). There isn't a single believable instance (Anthony Beevor, I'm surprised at you for suggesting this book!) It's not just that Aue is led to Hitler's bunker and does something completely ridiculous, it's that in the final pages, all the main characters somehow meet each other. For as I said, up till that time, this book has a lot of interesting things to offer. All kinds of things were passing by me, which I could clearly make out in this green water: horses whose feet the current was moving as if they were galloping, fat and almost flat fish, bottom-feeders, Russian corpses with swollen faces, entwined in their curious brown capes...Above me, the ice formed an opaque screen, but the air lasted in my lungs, I wasn't worried and kept swimming, passing sunken barges full of handsome young men sitting in rows, their weapons still in their hands, little fish threading through their hair agitated by the current. Then there are parts of this book that remind me of Team America: World Police. There are moments of pure inanity, as Aue - a self-righteous, pretentious, preening gasbag - holds forth on various topics in his grating, solipsistic manner (the tragedy of Aue not being able to fornicate with his sister tends to pale next to the murder of 6 million Jews).
Early on, Max Aue, the narrator, an SS Obersturmbannfürher, makes a case that all of us might have done what the Germans did in their place, that we are mistaken to believe that what the Nazis did was some sort of unique phenomenon confined to Germans in the middle of the 20th century. We might not believe the scale of the Nazi death machine could be repeated but racial hatred is still a political factor in modern life. But seeing as Littell begins with this idea of collective responsibility you assume he will have as his narrator a kind of everyman who will bear his theory out that we are all potential Nazis. Before long though we find out our narrator's pivotal childhood memory is of engaging in anal sex with his twin sister at the age of twelve. It's often like bad slapstick comedy which Littell perhaps acknowledges when, towards the end, his narrator takes a fervent dislike to Hitler's physiognomy and instead of accepting the medal from his führer sinks his teeth into Adolf's nose and then speculates why history has remained unaware of this event. In a novel of nearly a thousand pages the last thing we need is an endless repetitive cataloguing of all the ways Aue comes up with to desecrate his sister's home. Often a character is drafted in with an encyclopaedic knowledge of a section's pertinent subject which allows Littell to write long unbroken treatises in the form of thoroughly unconvincing dialogue. But this is also one of its problems because with its endless lists of SS officials and departments it often reads like a non-fiction book with a kind of Forest Gump narrator who always manages to gatecrash every pivotal moment of Nazi history. At the end of the day you have to ask yourself how well did this novel succeed in its intention of providing an insight into the Nazi psyche? At times you might say it's a brilliantly researched book of non-fiction; every time however the fiction in it asserts itself I kept feeling Littell is a long way from being a first rate novelist.
Sometimes effect feels fascinating, especially deliberations on the vision of national socialism or motivations of the narrator of the novel, then again horrifying with descriptions of mass murders or concentration camps, and at times just fatiguing due to neverending reports full of names and military ranks. What makes this book unique and shocking, and what sometimes is its the biggest flaw, is the figure of narrator, Maximilian Aue. To establish a murderer main protagonist, to make us read his testimony, hear his thoughts, acknowledge that he escaped, in a way, justice was clever though rather dangerous task. He can in one breath talk about wisdom of ancient authors and beauty of human, well, male's body, about love and music and at the same time being able to participate at executions. There were criticisms that by employing the ancient idea of fate Littell intended to justify Max, or in wider perspective German, deeds and omissions or lessen his crimes. Littell examines damages done to ordinary soldiers that had to face with mass extermination especially in the first days of war, tries to draw a line between them and psychopaths and degenerate individuals relishing these deeds. Through Max' eyes allows us to experience war at Ukraine, Russia and Poland, leads us through battle of Stalingrad, hell of Auschwitz-Birkenau to final days in Berlin. Max makes his remorseless confession many years after the war ended, regrets, thats for children as his colleague Eichmann would say, and what strikes me the most is his statement that we are not better men than he was, merely more luckier to live in different times and not forced to make his choices. I do not regret anything: I did my work, thats all; as for my family problems, which I might also talk about, they concern no one but me; and as for the rest, I probably did go a little far toward the end, but by that point I was no longer entirely myself, I was off-balance, and anyhow the whole world was toppling around me, I wasnt the only one who lost his head, admit it.
It Begins and Ends in Bad Politics It is possible for human beings to justify all behaviour, no matter how irrational and cruel. Littell's take is innovative only because it is created from the point of view of the murderers, capturing their experiences and mental states as the war is prepared for, progresses, and ends. Meditating briefly on Auschwitz, Max muses, "Wasnt the camp itself, with all the rigidity of its organization, its absurd violence, its meticulous hierarchy, just a metaphor, a reductio ad absurdum of everyday life?" The camps are the source of a new German culture: "a breeding ground for mental illnesses and sadistic deviations." Max knows he is participating in a war like none before, "... Democracy also possesses the cultural force necessary to turn evil into good through purely social sanctions. The murderer of wounded soldiers, for example, "...killed people or had them killed, so hes Evil; but within himself, he was a good man to those close to him, indifferent to all others, and, whats more, one who respected the law. What more do we ask of the individual in our civilized, democratic cities?" Judging by the evidence of the 20th century, democracy uses its powers more frequently and with less cause than any other form of government. This is one of the principle messages of the book.
How exactly to you attempt to explore the depths of Nazi Germany without feeling dark, abused, and sick afterwards? But how exactly do you descend into the depths of Nazi hell without pushing through gouts of madness, clumps of wickedness and wads of depravity? Littell uses Obersturmbannführer Maximilien Aue (a "cultured", SS Zelig) to explore how an unrepentant rationalist, a bureaucrat, an intellectual could participate in, defend, and justify the extermination of a race. The slow decent of mad Max is a way for Littell to explore the absurd and tortured NAZI self-justifications for their actions.
The novel is an uncompromising story of fascism starting with its bloodthirsty snarl at humanity and ending with its agony and rigor mortis. He waved his hand: Man, of course!I meant medically.Medically, atrocious things dont interest me in the least.
Rating: 3* of five The Publisher Says: "Oh my human brothers, let me tell you how it happened." So begins the chilling fictional memoir of Dr. Maximilien Aue, a former Nazi officer who has reinvented himself, many years after the war, as a middle-class family man and factory owner in France. A provocative and controversial work of literature, The Kindly Ones is a morally challenging read; it holds up a mirror to humanity--and the reader cannot look away. My Review: The Kindly Ones is more than a morally challenging read; it makes me feel deeply unclean. I just could not endure one more moment of German military terminology and I dislike the German language with sincere fervor, and then there is the slickly sickly slimy Max, with whom I can't bear to spend one more eyeblink; but good lord people, the amount I've already read would be a novel by itself! I can say, though, that anyone who wants to deny the existence of a Holocaust would do well to read this novel. Littell's story shows how well he understands the history of the (factual) Holocaust, and his choice of a protagonist shows how well he understands human nature and its strengths.
This near-1000-page novel is the rambling testament of SS officer Dr. Max Aue, devoted Hauptsturmführer (Captain), later Standartenführer (Major), semi-repentant monster and lunatic, following his humble beginnings liquidating all non-Aryans to his time, uh, liquidating all non-Aryans. The novel is written in a flat first-person prose, heavily factual with some surgical dissections of the narrators complex emotional life. Critics of the book complain about the narrators obsession with excrement, but excrement acts as an unpleasant metaphor for his disturbed mental state, for the rotten world of wartime EuropeMax Aue might have murdered his mother and stepfather, and still holds a torch for his sister whom he sodomised as a teenager. They have to review four or five per week, they cant be doing with 1000-page monsters with conflicting moral messages.